Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Today I tried something different. Bach Goldberg Variations. Surprisingly great to dance to, I got really into it for a while. Here is the piece I wrote yesterday for a cross reference. 

Maybe a first chapter of something. Maybe a stand alone piece. 

Sdad Dad

Last night was a rough one. Sofia was scratching so badly that I had to lay in bed with her to stop her. All night long she woke up, tossing and turning, grimacing and grunting angrily, lashing out, kicking at me, telling me to stay away and, worst of all, scratching up her skin like crazy. She's had the flu for 3 days and it is taking it's toll now. Her fever is down, but the force of this virus is fierce, especially on her sensitive skin. We gave her benadryl, but it didn't seem to be working. 

Why am I writing in prose?

Genevieve had gone to sleep in Sofia's bed, because she had
to be up early for work, and needed the sleep. Thank God
she got some. Oh yes, verse is better, for me, worse 
for you? Maybe an epic fail. I mustn't swerve off course!

Oh it looks like this is going to be in quatrains, but you never know
how it's going to go this early on in the game. No, I won't even try to
revise this. It's that kind of experiment. One with the aim to be read
by every angry sleepy-head on the block, because this is how, instead,

you may quell the fire in the breast of the beast, quiet the monster
and put her gently to back to sleep. Singing, at least with my disaster
of a voice, doesn't hold muster, she just asks me to stop. A story
to hold her attention is the only hope, and it has to be a good story,

good enough to make her forget the inflammation raging under skin.
(I'm going to switch back to prose, at least until poetry is needed again.)

Nice how that "just so happened" to turn out to be a little sonnet. Ugh, my friend just called and interrupted my train of thought. He was calling asking for marital advice. I didn't tell him what he wanted to hear and so he hung up frustrated. Apparently he didn't want to answer to the last question I asked him, because he suddenly got flustered and conveniently remembered that he had forgotten to bring his computer to work and had to go. The question was "When someone isn't making you happy, isn't it generally true that it's you that aren't making yourself happy? Like a corollary to that idea that nobody can make you mad? Isn't it really your stuff and not theirs?" Nope, that's not what he wanted to hear at all. Maybe it was insensitive on my part. Maybe it was too judgemental. I don't know what he's really going through. But I think I do.

At any rate, the story I am trying to tell is the other side of that story, the happy ending side. Maybe I should have never answered the phone in the first place, but I'm glad I did, just because it lead to the observation that "taking care of my own needs" is often in opposition to "taking care of another's needs." It fits into my narrative perfectly, by showing the contrast. Taking care of another is just what I was busy doing last night. Hard to do sometimes, but good for the heart! Good!

The story I told Sofia to calm her down was this. (Here I suppose we should once again enter into poetry.)

There was a yellow little flower with purple polka dots
(it's good to start with something sensory and basic, like the color
of polka dots, and then when you have attention get to the conflict
right away) and this yellow flower stood in a field of a thousand others,

only these flowers were all purple, with yellow dots, and Mabel,
(the flower's name was Mabel. Good to throw a funny name
in there) thought she looked funny in the middle of all those flower people.
She was embarrassed about the way she stood out, in all that purple,

dressed in bright yellow. But then one day a funny little fellow
came along and picked her. He chose Mabel among all the others
because she stood out. Her difference made him instantly love her,
and so he picked her and took her home to give to his mother.

The boy's name was Frederich, and he and his mother and grand
father lived in a little cabin in the woods of Montana, in a faraway land.

Whoa, I just noticed that I unconsciously wrote another sonnet! I guess I've read enough of them by now that I just automatically go there when I slip into poetry. That's a trip. I shall return to the ease and comfort of prose once again,

By this point Sofia had fallen asleep. So I returned to sleep too, happy to know I could comfort her with the powers of my imagination by sweeping her up in a tale. 

But an hour later Sofia was up again, kicking me, snarling and scratching like a fiend, crying and whining that she wanted to go into the other room to sleep with Mama. I told her Mama needed sleep because she had to go to work early, but Sofia wouldn't accept that answer and kept crying for Mama. I told her she was going to wake up the upstairs neighbors. She said she couldn't help it. So to bandage up the situation I told her that I was going to finish telling her the story that I started earlier, and then, when I was finished, she could go in and sleep with her Mama. So, shaking off deep sleep, I started again from where I left off...

Frederich's mother, whose name was Alma, loved the beautiful yellow flower
he brought her. She found a cobalt blue glass vase and filled it with water.
This glass vase was very unusual, because everything else in their home
was made of white blonde wood, all of the furniture, all of the flotsam

and jetsam, everything it seemed but the blue glass vase with the yellow
flower with purple dots. Everybody fussed over what a beautiful glow
the flower had, and then they all went to bed, and went to sleep
(because it is always helpful to have the people in your story go to sleep

as soon as possible, because it is suggestive to the impressionable mind
of the listener to help her nod off herself, and at this point I generally slow my 
voice way down too, leave longer and longer spaces between my words,
breath deeper, like a hypnotist. And then I continue toward the absurd

world of dreams.) The little flower noticed a book lying on the table,
a beautiful green book telling how to fly like a reindeer, and Mabel
the flower was excited because she had always wanted to learn to fly,
and she had loved reindeer ever since she had seen a red sleigh

being pulled across the sky one night (even though it doesn't really make sense
that a flower would see Santa Claus in December in Montana. Logic, and even tense
doesn't matter at a time like this. Just keep the story rolling.) Mabel wished she
could read the book and learn how to fly like a reindeer. She imagined she

was flying like a reindeer until she fell asleep and then, in turn, she dreamed she
was flying like a reindeer, on her way to Iceland, that blue island in the Northern sea.

(Hmm, a stanza too long to be a sonnet this time.) 

Around this point I like to stop and ask a question, to see if she is sleeping yet, like "Do you know where Iceland is?" And depending on her answer, or lack thereof, I know whether she is sleeping yet or not. If I am lucky she is, and I can stop and get some more sleep. In this case I was in luck. 

But soon she is up yet again, angry and upset, scratching and crying, and so I pull out of slumber and return to the story once. But you get it now. The story goes that as Mabel was flying through the sky, on her way to Iceland, to see her reindeer family, she is nearly hit by a plane (another heavy conflict to get her back into the story) but then she meets a goose who has lost her V, and the story veers off from there.

Eventually we get through the night, after five or six of these episodes. In the morning, after her mother and sister have gone off to work and school, I have her do some homework. Her homework is a "reading response" in which she draws a picture from one of her books and then writes a few sentences about it. As she was drawing I put on Bach's Goldberg Variations. I wanted to listen to that because I last night while cleaning the basement closet I listened to a podcast about the artist Marina Abramovich's new project which was simply having people listen in on noise cancelling headphones to the Bach piece. The podcast mentioned the origin of the piece, which I hadn't heard.

From Wikipedia:

[For this work] we have to thank the instigation of the former Russian ambassador to the electoral court of SaxonyCount Kaiserling, who often stopped in Leipzig and brought there with him the aforementioned Goldberg, in order to have him given musical instruction by Bach. The Count was often ill and had sleepless nights. At such times, Goldberg, who lived in his house, had to spend the night in an antechamber, so as to play for him during his insomnia. … Once the Count mentioned in Bach's presence that he would like to have some clavier pieces for Goldberg, which should be of such a smooth and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights. Bach thought himself best able to fulfill this wish by means of Variations, the writing of which he had until then considered an ungrateful task on account of the repeatedly similar harmonic foundation. But since at this time all his works were already models of art, such also these variations became under his hand. Yet he produced only a single work of this kind. Thereafter the Count always called them his variations. He never tired of them, and for a long time sleepless nights meant: 'Dear Goldberg, do play me one of my variations.' Bach was perhaps never so rewarded for one of his works as for this. The Count presented him with a golden goblet filled with 100 louis-d'or. Nevertheless, even had the gift been a thousand times larger, their artistic value would not yet have been paid for.

I spent awhile just scrolling through the different versions of Goldberg Variations they had on Spotify, then I decided to choose one by album cover. That took me on a detour to looking at hundreds of different covers of Bach albums, most of them surprisingly bad. But a few were very beautiful. I wanted to stop everything and create a blog on the spot of great found Bach album cover art. But one can't do everything. 

Eventually Sofia asked me what I was doing and I returned to the task at hand, choosing the right version, by cover design, to play in that moment. I found one and put it on. I sat back in the green chair and listened. The music was so beautiful! I almost wished I had insomnia myself, like Count Kaiserling, if only so I could hear this played to me live every night. And even more, perhaps, I wanted to learn to play it for myself. Maybe someday, thought. Maybe in my dotage, as they say. 

This thought, of my dotage, lead me to another train of thought. That word, "dotage," reminds me that I ran across the word "doit" last week, at a Burns Dinner at my friend Karen's house in Astoria. A Burns Dinner is a ritualized dinner organized around the birthday of Robbie Burns, the great Scottish poet. It was great. The haggis was piped in by a live Scottish bagpiper. Karen had to order the Haggis from Scotland because it is illegal in the United States, for some reason, to sell lung meat, and she found the bagpiper by asking around. She said she asked a meditation teacher she had at Shambala Center who just so happened to have a student that was a bagpiper. Kismet. Anyhow, after the dinner we sang Burns' songs and read his poems. I read one stanza from a long ode called simply, "Scotch Drink," with the lines addressed to scotch,

Thou clears the head o'doited Lear; 
Thou cheers ahe heart o' drooping Care; 
Thou strings the nerves o' Labour sair, 
At's weary toil; 
Though even brightens dark Despair 
Wi' gloomy smile. 

It's a funny line, that first one, as if Lear had just needed a bit more Scotch to keep him sane. Then all that mess he created by dividing his Kingdom would have been cleared up! The train of thought also takes me back to The Year of Lear, a fantastic book I read a few weeks back. Lear, which was written 150 years before Burns was born, was addressed to the Scottish king of England. The scotch connection.

The line about about Lear being doit; doit, like dotoge, comes from the middle English word "dote", to act silly. Like, maybe these digressions seem a little silly, a little dotty, if you possess a linear mind. Get to the point, you might be saying to yourself. The point? The point is a period. This is more like a dot.

Meanwhile Sofia, still feeling lousy, trying to work on her Reader Response, was getting worked up and frustrated by little things, five-year-old problems, like figuring out what direction the letter "b" went, or how to get the book she was copying from to lay flat. She would just each time time in irritation. And every time I would  take a breath and talk her gently through the problem, bolstered up by the calming music of The Goldberg Variations.

Eventually Sofia brought me the drawing she had been working on "for years." 
She had drawn monkey walking through a thick jungle crying, a waterfall of tears
falling into a puddle at his feet. Two elephants with sad wide open eyes look on,
She writes, "Bobo is sdad. The elephant see that Bobo is sdad inn

fact everyone sees that Bobo is very very very sdad." She wrote sdad
because she asked me how to spell "sad" and I told her that it was just like "dad"
which she knows, but it starts with an "s." Makes total sense. It was a neat trick,
as it turns out. My friend Jacques, after I posted the picture the on FaceBook

commented, "Sofia is learning Hebrew, apparently, in which
language "sdad" means "okay". That was amazing, in one little switch
of meaning, stemming from a supposed mistake,  Jacques had completely 
changed the meaning of Sofia's drawing from very very very "sad" to "okay." 

It just took a little "d" at the beginning of sad to make all the difference,
and a network of friends big enough, and sharp enough, to note the sense.

There, my final sonnet for today. I tried to make one that time. Probably not as successfully as when I wasn't trying. 

After making the drawing Sofia showed it to me and sat in the big green easy chair to watch a show. She was happy now. She had channeled her feelings into making a beautiful little piece of art. And, for a moment, though her body may be sick, her spirit was light. 

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